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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

John 19

 

 

Verse 5

LESSONS FROM CALVARY

‘Behold the Man.’

John 19:5

Jesus said, “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me.” Year by year we see these words more perfectly fulfilled. The power of the Cross is seen in the increased observance of Good Friday; and although there is yet much to deplore in the carelessness or unbelief of the many, yet we must believe that at last the crucified Jesus will draw all men unto Him.

I. Jesus crucified draws us to Calvary.—We go with the crowd, we turn aside from the events of everyday life ‘to behold this great sight.’ With what feelings do we come to the Cross of Jesus? Amongst us, doubtless, there are some careless ones as there were among the crowd on the first Good Friday; those who come to the Cross and go away unsaved. There are many in the world to-day who will pass by Calvary with a jest, and mock before the face of the dying Son of God. But there are many also whose hearts are full of love and full of sadness for the sufferings of their Lord; let them pray for the scorner and the careless one and the unbeliever, that they may be drawn to the Cross and find pardon. There were some who went to Calvary on that first Good Friday perhaps scarcely knowing why they went; sad-hearted, troubled folk, whose lives were wrong, and who knew not how to cure them; and who, kneeling beneath the Cross, and feeling the precious Blood of Christ drop on them, found light and joy and peace. Oh! if there be any such here to-day, who have cried for the light and never found it, who are conscious that there is something wrong with them which they know not how to mend, let them come to Calvary now, let them fall prostrate in prayer before the Cross, let them go down into the grave of repentance to-day.

II. And now that we stand in the presence of our Redeemer dying for us, ‘let us stand in awe, and sin not,’ let us ‘be still, and know that it is God.’ Let us strive to realise that we have crucified Jesus, that our sins, no less than those of others, have given Jesus to the Cross. Let us try to feel that as the voices in Pilate’s hall cry ‘Crucify Him,’ our voices are among them.

III. ‘Behold the Man,’ and beholding, cry with the centurion, ‘Of a truth this was the Son of God.’ They part His garments among them: and there again His enemies unconsciously teach us a lesson. Adam by his sin lost the robe of innocence, and hid himself from God, ashamed of his nakedness. Jesus suffers His garments to be divided that He may clothe us sinners with the robe of His righteousness. They have pierced His side with a spear. Ah! not only the spear of steel, but the spear of man’s ingratitude pierced Him, even to His broken heart. And mark the result. Then came forth from that broken side streams of love, streams of water to cleanse us from our sin, and of blood to strengthen us for ever in His sacraments. Thus in His death are the prophecies fulfilled. ‘I am poured out like water,’ said the Psalmist, and now from the side of Jesus is poured out a river which goes forth out of Eden to water the garden of the Church.

Rev. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton.

Illustration

‘There is a beautiful legend which tells us that the crown of thorns, preserved in a certain shrine, blossoms every Easter Day, and fills the whole Church with its perfume. For the faithful that thorny crown has indeed blossomed like the rose, and filled all our lives with its sweetness. For the sin of the first Adam this earth was cursed, and it brought forth thorns. Jesus, the second Adam, died to remove the curse of sin, and so He wore the thorns, the fruits of sin, as His crown.’


Verse 9

PILATE’S QUESTION

‘Whence art Thou?’

John 19:9

I do not know of anything of more vital importance than that we should discover truly the source from which Jesus came, and why it is that from that source He should come to bear grief and agony, and for what purpose it is that He should have left His former position to come among men.

I. We stand before Christ ourselves; looking aside, we say: ‘Whence art Thou?’ Instantly we have our own answer; and there is not one believer present here but does not say, ‘I believe Jesus came from God.’ We are quoting His own words in John 8:42, ‘I proceeded forth and came from God.’ In John 8:23 we have it again: ‘I am from above.’ We, of course, choose to believe that He is that Man ‘come from God.’ Though the eye seeks a revelation, the conscience compels us to believe that Jesus is absolutely one with the Almighty God; and that leads us to look back through eternity to the time before the foundation of the world, when our Blessed Saviour was in the glory of the Father in the deepest possible sense of the word when He was with God and was God, as the opening in John’s Gospel expresses it, signifying equality with God.

II. If that be the true source of Jesus, I ask you to think of the infinite majesty of this Peasant, though He stands before Pilate; He stands, in reality, one in power, majesty, and dignity with the Father. We turn to think of the words He used Himself: ‘I and My Father are one’; and ‘Glorify Thou Me with Thine own self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was.’ We begin to think this Being was indeed a marvellous man when we have realised something of what His position means; and the moment the inquiry comes, we have the answer that He comes from that glory, from that position in which he shared the dignity of the Godhead, was indeed one with the Father in the glory of the unapproachable throne.

III. Never, till we stand face to face with our Creator God shall we be able to measure the full beauty of holiness, or to realise all it means in Christ and to ourselves in all its aspects. I would humbly say one thing, however, and that is that it has no limits. As we look on Christ with all His attributes of holiness and beauty, and say: ‘Whence art Thou?’ we get the reply, ‘From God, to take you to God!’ That is the answer of this question; ‘Whence art Thou?’ from the point of view of Christ’s first Advent. Look at it again from the point of view of the second. Our Lord said to His disciples, ‘I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you’; and again, ‘I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.’

Rev. Prebendary Webb-Peploe.

Illustration

‘“Whence art Thou?” Of course from the lips of the judge this simply meant: “What is this man?” “Where has He come from?” “Who can He be?” The greatest commentators have written in various ways upon this question. Some have said that Pilate was seeking to know the province from which Jesus came; but we know from other narratives of Christ’s trial that this had already been settled, because Pilate sent Him to Herod, as He understood Him to be of Galilee, and therefore in Herod’s jurisdiction. Others think the question concerns Christ’s birth; while yet others say that Pilate, as a heathen, was inquiring as to the heroes which the people honoured in Christ’s country. None of these explanations suffice. We have to look deeper, and when we acknowledge that Pilate simply recognised in Christ a peasant of Galilee, and when we further remember that he liberated a man who was undergoing imprisonment for insurrection, we shall be able to see something of the contempt which Pilate had for Christ and for righteousness. Moreover, the way in which he turned from one subject to another in his questions shows either contempt or cowardice.’


Verse 15

THE CRUCIFIXION OF THE KING

‘Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Cæsar.’

John 19:15

Are there no Pilates with us now—men and women to whom the obedience of Christ seems almost impossible—who have grown so entirely worldly that there is scarce an avenue left for Christ’s message to reach them? Oh! that before the last opportunity be gone the figure of the King might come before them; that they might be startled at the look upon His face of Divine other-worldliness.

I. Whence was Christ the King?—From the eternal glory of God, from the right hand of the Majesty on high, from heaven, that home where we must go, or forfeit all the joy of eternal life. Shall not we, who by God’s grace have learned the lesson, cry out in all our lives, ‘O blessed Lord, we know Thee, whence Thou camest; we bless Thy Holy Name Thou didst come, and that Thou hast gone back again to prepare a place for us.’ For the glory of that place has touched the hill-tops of our lives, and we know that the full sunshine is but the other side.

II. Turn to consider the cry of the Jews, ‘We have no king but Cæsar!’ It was a cry as true as it was sad. By the mouth of their own leaders they acknowledge their national degradation. They had, indeed, no king to guide them, legislate for them, judge them, and die for them. No king but this One Whom they will not own. Once God was their King, directing their armies, strengthening and teaching their rulers, absolutely providing for every need of their national life. Then, at least, men of their own kith and kin; now a foreign tyrant, a jailer, chaining and despising them and their religion; contemptuously tolerant of their God! This is the nation which once sang, ‘The Lord of Hosts, He is the King of Glory’; ‘The Lord is our King, and He will save us’; ‘God is my King of old.’

III. Man, whether gathered into a nation, or in his individual life, must have a king.—And the choice is not complicated, though its issues are tremendous. It is Christ or Cæsar. Cæsar may stand for the world, the flesh, the devil. For Satan says to us all, ‘See what I will give thee, all the pleasures of the world, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Do you want to heap up money; do you want to enjoy life; do you want to rise in the world, though it be upon the trampled bodies of your fellows? It must be by my aid.’ What raised the cry in the case before us was something even more terrible. The Pharisees desired to stifle the voice which was crying out upon their iniquities. It was the truth they feared, and they would have none of it. And they drowned the voice of truth in the frenzied cry of themselves and of their dupes. ‘The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and My people love to have it so. And what will ye do in the end thereof?’

IV. And is Christ the King of this our land?—If we as a country do not revile Him, do we worship Him? We have found a more decorous way to quiet the voice; we do not cry, ‘Crucify Him! crucify Him!’ But to some it seems that we are every whit as far as the Jews were from acknowledging Him as the Director of the conscience of the nation, as the King of our kings, and the Lord of our lords! There lies around us a huge mass of heathendom: refined and luxurious on the one hand, coarse and wretched on the other; intellectual here, animal there. We mayflatter ourselves on our wealth, on our dominions, on our navy, on the purity of our courts, but none can say that Christ reigns here. And it is idle to dispute as to whether Cæsar’s sway be now rather more or less extensive than a few years back. It is a great iron tyranny still. Can we do anything? Is it not mockery to cry ‘Give ye them to eat’? Well, doubtless among the Jewish throng one here and there would gladly have raised a cry for Christ, but feared or thought it useless in the face of such demoniacal possession. Yet the cry might have cheered the Master’s heart, might have been a nucleus round which others would have gathered.

At any rate, our duty is clear. We must not for a moment lay ourselves open to the suspicion of going with the crowd. The Lords needs faithful witnesses; the world stifles our witness with its Babel cry of ‘Cæsar, Cæsar!’ Then let us cry louder, ‘Christ, Christ!’ Cry aloud and spare not! Let no comradeship, no society customs, no business methods, drown the cry, ‘Christ, Christ!’ Oh, for more knees that will not bow to Baal, for more fathers, mothers, schoolboys and schoolgirls, menservants and maidservants, who will openly, faithfully, constantly say, ‘Christ is the King’—on Sunday and on weekday, in the home and in the world, ‘Christ is the King!’

—Rev. Dr. Flecker.

Illustration

‘Do you not see what is involved in taking the crucified Jesus as our King? It is something vastly more than doing homage to the superlative excellence of a spotless life, or to the marvellous wisdom of the founder of a new code of morals. It is to recognise in Him, and in this His crowning work, the propitiation for your sins; to feel the heinousness, the separation from God, which sin involves; to feel the burden of them to be intolerable; to feel that here He rids us of the load. And even more than that. For this is but the first step of a new life. As the Master, so the servant. We must gird ourselves with the towel and wash our brethren’s feet; we must take the Beatitudes as the code of our lives; we must welcome difficulties, trials, persecutions, false revilings, for Christ’s sake. In a word, we must walk in the Light. Oh, let us who have recognised the claims of Christ upon us be loyal! False worship has ever dogged the footsteps of the King, from the time when Herod bade the Wise Men bring him word that “I may come and worship Him also.” There has ever been the Judas, the Ananias, the Sapphira; and there have been, too, the timid ones worshipping Him secretly for fear of the Jews, denying Him around a fire of coals. But we will pray the Holy Spirit to help us to recognise the supreme claim which the King has upon our allegiance, upon our worship, upon our speech, our purse, our time. We will pray Him to keep us faithful, us who are called and chosen, until He Who is Lord of lords and King of kings shall triumph and lead us rejoicing in His train.’


Verse 26-27

THE MOST PATHETIC PHRASE IN GOD’S WORD

‘Woman, behold thy son!… Behold thy mother!’

John 19:26-27

There was a brief lull in the tempest which surged round the Cross of Christ, and the women who had been looking on afar off, His mother and the women from Galilee, emboldened by the falling back of the crowd, drew near to the foot of the Cross. One disciple returned, the beloved John, and so through all the long agony, through all the awful darkness, as the lonely cry rang out, His loved ones stood nearest Him.

I. The triumph of human love.—‘Now there stood by the Cross of Jesus His mother.’ This sentence forms the most pathetic phrase in the whole of God’s Word. In infancy she had been content that He should nestle to her breast; now she comes to watch by the strange death of the One she loved, only half understanding Him. Yet she did love Him. As He turns His eyes, scorched by fever, upon her, what memories must have passed through both their minds! His mother was brave, and true enough, and strong enough, to come and stand at the foot of the Cross. Just to be near Him was all she wanted.

II. The responsibilities of human relationship.—And yet, again, I see in these words a responsibility which human relationships must bring. ‘Woman, behold thy son!’ No love must be wasted in the Kingdom of Christ. If Jesus, her Son, must be taken, then another must be given to her that she might lavish that mother’s love upon him. The Cross teaches us that there is work to be done in the name of the Crucified, and that that work commences in the home-life. Our homes—oh, how weary some homes are, how full of passion, what jealousies, what thoughtlessness, how unhelpful some homes are, how un-Christian! What is going to alter them, what is going to raise the home-life of our people to the dignity which the Blessed Master has shown should surround it? What is going to make the home-life of our nation, of our people, just the power which it ought to be? Only this—let the dying Christ by His message send us all back to our homes to try and sweeten, and gladden them, and hallow them by bringing His love into them, that we may go back to them and be intent upon doing this, showing our love for Christ in the details, in the self sacrificing details, of the daily life, willing to see in our home-life the highest opportunity of serving our Blessed Master.

III. The lesson for to-day.—I ask you to learn this lesson from the Cross, from this message from the Cross, that woman’s love is a very holy thing, not only because it has the greatest effect upon life here, it is the greatest lever by which life is to be raised to the Divine height to which God would have it raised, but because it is eternal, because it lasts for ever. Let us see that we keep it holy, that we reverence it as it should be reverenced. Let us not drag it through the mire of the world’s lust and passion. Let us remember that love is Divine in that human relationship, whatever that human relationship is. It is a Divine thing, for the Blessed Master Himself partook of it. He was made Man; He was a Son; He was born into this world to fulfil the duty of sonship, and He has for ever consecrated it. Let us see, we who are men especially, let us see that we reverence it.

—Rev. T. J. Longley.

Illustration

‘The greatest thing in the world is the love of some strong, true, brave woman, whether she be mother, sister, or wife, who is willing to stand by us men in the time of our difficulties. The scene surely serves as an inspiration for every girl and every woman in her daily life to live her best, to be her truest, her noblest; and an appeal to every man to think with reverence and honour of womanhood, to show them respect and reverence, and courtesy in the details of daily life, because, for all ages, it has been written to serve as our inspiration that in the moment when all else has fled from the Blessed Lord there stood by the Cross His mother.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE WORD OF TENDER CARE

I should like to emphasise this Word as the word of Tender Care. The beloved mother is given into the charge of the beloved disciple. Love only can take charge of loved ones, and John was the disciple whom Jesus loved, and, although he does not say it, the disciple who loved Jesus.

I. Notice and reflect that after the Incarnation was given to man the Blessed Mother seems to retire behind the scenes; we do not hear much about her—very little. Her work in the world was to be the mother of the Lord Jesus Christ, her beginning and her end, her Alpha and her Omega, her first and her last. Being His mother, she is here at His deathbed, under the Cross. I want you to notice how very retiring she is. She does not appear during the Passion: she is not reported to have said anything or done anything. Each of the Evangelists gives us four chapters about the Passion, and all that was said and done.

II. But the Blessed Mother is left out until we come to Calvary.—Why do you think this was? What are we to gather from it?

(a) Surely, first of all that His Mother knew all these things—it was no news to her. The dear Lord and Master must have told her what was going to happen.

(b) And another point is this: She willed it. She made no comment, no remonstrance against the cruelty of wicked men. She who said, ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it unto me according to Thy word,’ knew that the word of God had gone out from everlasting that thus it must be. She uttered no word: her will was the will of her Son. He laid down His life right willingly, and in His will was hers. She will not go on Easter morning to bring spices to the tomb—not she. She will not show any faithless love. She will not go to Him at all. Why? She knows He is not there. ‘The secret of the Lord is with those that fear Him.’ She knows.

III. What was it that distressed her so much? Why was it that the sword passed into her soul? What was the piercing of the soul, if she willed it?

(a) First, because she was His own mother. As our own Prayer Book says. He was ‘of the substance of the Virgin Mary His Mother.’ He was not of the substance of any father; He was twice as much of His mother as ever you or I are of ours, and that ‘twice His mother’ was hers. He is all the world’s, but still He is hers. Though He have the world’s worship, still her heart avers, ‘The Child Divine belongeth unto me.’ And now you can understand the first reason why the sword was piercing her soul.

(b) And the second. If she was the dear mother of Christ, she was still the dear daughter of God. Who was it that put her Son to death? Who was it that was slaying Him? The Church. Pilate would not have killed Him. It was Mary’s Church. Brought up amid all the associations of the old service and the old ritual, as dear a daughter of Israel as ever lived, she saw that the Chief Priests and Scribes had delivered Him up to be crucified. The thing was done by those she had loved most.

—Rev. A. H. Stanton.

Illustration

‘Heathens cannot crucify Jesus. I tell you who can crucify Him. The Church—only the Church. If the Lord Jesus Christ is to be put to death in these days it is by the Church of God—no one else can crucify Him. It is you and I who can crucify Him and put Him to open shame, and tread underfoot the Blood whereby we have been redeemed.’

(THIRD OUTLINE)

THE IDENTITY OF HUMAN AND DIVINE LOVE

We are accustomed to speak of earthly and Divine love as two entirely different things; we are used to put earthly ties and human relationship a little in the background. Christ teaches us to do no such thing.

I. In this the supreme moment of His work for us on earth He emphasises the importance of family life and human love.

(a) ‘Woman.’ He recalls how she, full of grace, had become the instrument of His birth. ‘Woman.’ It had been her task to minister to the Holy Child, to tend and guard Him in His helpless infancy, to teach His feet to walk, His lips to utter. Bethlehem, the stable; Nazareth, the home—these and a hundred other memories He deigns to recollect for evermore. And now, though the bitter pains of death are bowing His worn head, He will not forget her and the beloved disciple whom He leaves behind.

(b) ‘Behold thy Son.’ It had been foretold of her that a sharp sword should pierce her heart; and truly, as she stands thus beneath the Cross, her cup of suffering is complete. Even if in the awful circumstances of her case she can with faith believe that her Son is still Divine, though He appears so altogether mortal, the sport of chance, the object of His enemies’ derision, yet she knows He is about to leave her; soon she will be alone. It is just then He comforts and sustains her with the legacy of love He leaves behind Him. ‘Behold thy Son.’

(c) John was offered to her love. He the loved disciple who had leant upon the Saviour’s breast at that Last Supper of His love; he who had companied with Him, and drank in all His teaching; he, indeed, was fitted for the office designed for him.

(d) And for him, too, it was a splendid thoughtfulness that mapped out his future work. ‘Son, behold thy mother.’ Happy for him that his grief is to find solace in endeavour.

II. A lesson, indeed, for us and for all time.—Human ties, family life, earthly duty—these are the ladder which can lead from earth to heaven. Our love to God can only be real when it is shown in our love to men.

—Rev. A. Osborne Jay.

Illustration

‘There is a touching story told of a child’s unselfish affection for his mother. In a New England town not long ago a little newsboy was run over by a horse car and fatally hurt. He was but six years old, earning his own bread. In his last agonies he cried piteously for his mother—not that she might comfort him, but that he might give her his earnings. “I’ve saved ’em, mother, I’ve saved ’em all. Here they are.” When the little clenched hand fell rigid, it was found to hold ten cents. The words of that little child are an echo from the Cross. It was a tiny ray from the “gentleness of Christ,” which steals all down the rough and jarring ages.’

(FOURTH OUTLINE)

BEREAVEMENT

Death is cruel and relentless, but it is not a thing of meaningless and terrible despair. Though the best be gone, never to return, that is not the last word that can be said at such a parting. Something is left though the best be taken, and that something is not to be despised because it is not so good as that which is gone. Upon the Cross her only Son is passing away into the night of death. He will never again be as He was on earth with her at home. But at her side there stands another—another not so dear as He, but one who may yet be very dear, one in whom something may yet be found of the old peace and joy and blessing. Let her not ignore what is left in her despair at what she loses. It is not so good—how can it be? No, indeed, but it should be clothed upon by the goodness of that which is lost. It should recall, remind, re-echo what the Son had been, and by so remaining it should console with a consolation beyond its own. ‘Woman, behold thy son!… Behold thy mother!’ So quietly, so readily did she accept it.

I. All of us sometimes need sorely that quiet readiness of the Virgin.—It is the lesson, the task given us for our bitter mourning. The nearest and the dearest, they are taken. We have lost them. They are gone, and gone for ever. The happy, happy days, they will never come again. Lo, on the deathbed there lies the body of one who had been the very soul of all our joys, the voice at which our heart leapt, as we should never hear it now. The old laughter, the old memories, the old talks shall never be renewed. That is our one and only thought. In its bitterness all that remains to us seems worthless, seems empty. It irritates us by the very contrast. ‘Why tell me of these petty consolations? Why talk to me of what I can still do? What of duties and pleasures that life has still in store for me? I hate them because they are left, and the other is taken. I hate to think of them. I shall find myself going about the things of life again, and becoming half-interested in it once more, and perhaps enjoying it again and smiling again, and being busy and occupied. That is just what I most shrink from. I cannot bear that I can ever dare to think of anything again now that the light of mine eyes is taken from me!’ So we mutter, and down from His Cross our dying Lord looks gently and rebukes us, and tenderly bids us take up again the things that are left us. ‘Woman, behold thy son!… Behold thy mother!’

II. There they are, duties, obligations, responsibilities, all waiting for us to fulfil.—John was not to be forgotten or despised because Jesus is lost to her. He can never be the same, so we protested; no, never the same, never half as good. And yet for all that take it. There is something left. Accept it, whatever it be. It is something, it is well worth doing. You will learn to care for it, and interests will spring up again, and joys and hopes, loves not so strong or so lovely, however dear. ‘Behold thy son!’ Yes, and take it up, whatever it be, the new duty, the interest, as the direct legacies of the dead. Receive it as a commission from the lost, a task from the departed. ‘Remember what I said to you when I was with you, and for My sake put into it your heart, your affection.’ ‘Behold thy son!’

III. Does not death always leave us some such possibilities as these—a new life that can be taken up, if we will, as the result of our bereavement? Turn from the dead and face the living, and for the sake of the dead embrace the new in the faithfulness of the mother turning away from the Cross and following John from that hour into the new home. Yes, and through it, as she did, not only in loyalty to your own lost and dead ones, but in loyalty to Him Who died on the Cross for you, and Who, in the very act of dying, foreseeing new duties and new joys ahead to those whom He loved most, as He would not have them linger idly absorbed in the shadows of their sorrow and their loss, as He did not fear that they would forget Him in engaging once again in daily occupations, so still from His throne He bids us turn from the grave, and in His name re-enter the paths of duty, treasure such loves and joys as remain, treasure them for His sake, trust in His safe keeping all that we have lost, and He will keep them until that day.

—Rev. Canon H. Scott Holland.


Verse 28

THE THIRST OF CHRIST

‘I thirst.’

John 19:28

There breaks from the Cross one short, swift word, the only cry through the day’s long hours, which speaks of His own physical agony. Yet we cannot read these words as merely being signs of bodily suffering; there is a deeper spiritual meaning in the words as we read them now.

I. He thirsted for men.—How He thirsted for men! Was that thirst satisfied? Did it have no result? Was He disappointed at all? Nay, one of the soldiers, we read, dipped a sponge in vinegar and held it to our Lord. Do you not think that must have been something to the Master, hanging upon the Cross, that one of the very men who had crucified Him, and scoffed at Him, and scourged Him should have handed something to satisfy His thirst? Yes, that must have been worth something to our Lord. How would it be with us? From the Cross He still appeals to us. None of us can surely ever resist such an appeal. It touches our pity. He says ‘I thirst’ to-day, and if I can read your thoughts aright by your presence here, I know that you will satisfy that appeal. I know that there will be a response.

II. The thirst satisfied.—Here we are amongst friends, those who sympathise with us in our aims, and in our objects, and in our best endeavours; but next week, how will it be then when we are amongst the enemies of Christ, when we are amongst those who are scoffing at Him and scorning Him; who are setting Him at naught? Shall we be as that soldier? Shall we be able to brave the derision and the scoffing of our companions, and to satisfy our Lord’s appeal, or shall we be as one of those, His enemies, who will do nothing? I have not exaggerated the temptations that will come to you. They come to us clergy just as they come to you. It must have been very easy for the disciples to follow Him in the days of His popularity; and the demand upon our lives at this moment that we should live for Christ is not a great one. But believe me, a time is coming when your religion, if it is anything at all, will make a demand upon you, when somehow in your daily life, in your home life, or in your business life, there will be conflicting interests at work, and it will be a question whether you will satisfy the Redeemer and His love for men, or the world which merely stands by and sneers. What is going to quench that thirst? we ask. Nothing but this—giving our lives for His service.

III. What it costs.—Perhaps you are wondering what men and women are doing for Christ to-day, what it costs to be a Christian. Many men and women, girls and young men, whom the world thinks very little about, are serving Christ, and their love for Christ costs them much in homes where they never know anything but taunts and sneers, where all that they hold most dear is sneered at, and blasphemed, and put to open ridicule! And yet they remain true; they are truly doing their best. You have a best to give; you can give your life to the Redeemer now that He asks for it. Let us not give Him that which costs us nothing, a mere modicum of our service, the least we can do, just the one hour in the week in which we go to His house. Let us give Him the full life-service for which He asks.

—Rev. T. J. Longley.

Illustration

‘A German student who had served in the Franco-Prussian War was wounded in an engagement near Paris, and lay on the field unable to stir. He did not know exactly what was the nature of his wound, and he thought that he might be dying. The pain was intense; the wounded and dying were groaning round about him; the battle was still raging; the shots were falling and tearing up the ground in all directions. But after a time one agony, he afterwards told a friend, began to swallow up all the rest and soon made him forget his wound, his danger, and his neighbours. It was the agony of thirst. He would have given the world for a draught of water. This was the supreme distress of crucifixion. The agonies of the horrible punishment were of the most excruciating and complicated order; but, after a time, they all gathered into one central current, in which they were lost and swallowed up—that of devouring thirst; and it was this that drew from our Lord the fifth word.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE WORD OF SIMPLE HUMAN NATURE

This I should emphasise as the word of simple human nature. It was perfectly natural that He should feel thirsty. Remember the awful scourging, and the blood that was shed, and the fever from the open wounds: these would naturally make thirst.

I. There was nothing stoical about the Crucifixion.—He did not wish to hide any pain: He did not bite His lips and shut His teeth, but said quite calmly, ‘I thirst,’ implying that He would like a sponge or something put to His lips. He did not receive it at first when they offered it to lull the pain. But now He thirsts, and they fill a sponge with sour wine and put it to His lips, and He drinks.

II. It shows that in the dear Master’s heart there was not a spark of resentment.—He asks for and receives a kindness from one of the executioners, from one of the men who had been dicing over His clothes, from His enemies, from those who are putting Him to death. That was the most beautiful thing that man ever did in his life—a thing that one who loved the Saviour would long to do. The only thing we can offer Him is a broken heart, and we say, ‘Because, dear Master, we cannot offer Thee the sponge and vinegar, we offer Thee contrition for our sins.’ And I want you to remember that your heavenly Father will not forgive you unless you ‘from your hearts forgive every one his brother their trespasses.’ You say, ‘Yes, I will forgive, but I never want to have anything more to do with that man.’ Or else, ‘Oh, I quite forgive, but I would never accept a thing from his hands—I will never accept a favour from that man.’ I do not think that you can call that forgiveness from your heart.

III. When you are suffering ask the Lord to give you the ‘Living Water that springeth up into Everlasting Life,’ which if a man drink of, he shall never thirst. May God refresh us with His grace!

—Rev. A. H. Stanton.

Illustration

‘It would seem that there are two extremes about representing and dwelling upon the bodily suffering of our Lord. First, of course, there are such scenic representations as those which we sometimes read of in foreign countries. This sensationalism is like every other form of sensationalism, and carries with it the same dangers. This materialism is sometimes in danger of obscuring the very sacrifice which no doubt it is honestly meant to make personal and dramatic. But it cannot be denied, I think, that much of the thought and feeling around us in this country at the present time sets in the opposite direction. All who have looked at the criticism of the New Testament will remember how much is said of the Docetæ, that is, those ancient heretics who looked upon matter as in itself evil, and therefore could not believe that the Lord of glory had a true body. They looked upon Him as being a spiritual Being entirely, or rather a shadow playing an apparent part in an unreal world. And is there not something of Docetism at the root of some criticism upon sacred art which has become very fashionable and influential amongst ourselves?’

(THIRD OUTLINE)

THE CRISIS REACHED

I. It shows the reality of the bodily pain of our Blessed Lord.—Modern religious feeling appears rather to delight in going counter to ancient religious feeling. Ancient religious feeling appears to have held almost universally, that as no sorrow was ever like that sorrow, so no suffering was ever like that suffering. Modern religious spirituality seems to wish to minimise the physical suffering of the Lord on the Cross. It would seem to find a charm in proving that the thieves between whom the Lord was crucified suffered more than He did. But the lower mental and moral organisation would appear to suffer less than the higher and therefore more sensitive. Those who have witnessed it would tell how the Chinese dying of slow starvation with occasional torture superadded, has been known to laugh and jeer through the bars of his iron cage at the multitude who surround him. Our Blessed Lord was made subject to suffering. The word which St. Paul uses in Acts 26:23 means physical suffering. They of old believed that the body which was prepared for it had an exquisitely sensitive organism. Yes, after the agony in Gethsemane; after being dragged about from tribunal to tribunal, from Annas to Caiaphas, from Caiaphas to Pilate, from Pilate to Herod, from Herod back again to Pilate; after the crown of thorns—the terrible acanthus thorn—after that fearful Roman scourging, after the trance which necessarily accompanied the torture, after the exhaustion of those big drops falling down as they did slow and heavily upon the dust of Calvary, after the parting of human love, the dying Lord does not dwell upon His sufferings at length. Just that one word drops from those white lips of His—‘I thirst.’

II. It indicates to us that a crisis has been reached in the history of our Lord’s passion.—In John 19:28 the brightness of the victory begins. ‘After this Jesus, knowing that all things were accomplished’—the word should rather be translated ‘finished,’ for it is precisely the same word rendered ‘It is finished’ in John 19:30. In the ‘It is finished’ of John 19:30, we have the consummation of that which was in the heart of the Lord in John 19:28. There is a perfect unity of character in the representations of our Blessed Lord given to us in the four evangelists. Think of the temptation—He fasted forty days and forty nights, and was afterwards a hungred. First came the spiritual struggle, then the compliance with the lowly needs of the body.

III. A revelation of His character.—How truly and how beautifully human He is! He complies with the claims of the body, with the duty of seeking refreshment. The Stoic might have smiled cynically; the Indian brave, girt round with a circle of fire, his eyes starting from his head in the agony of the heat, and his black lips baked, has been known to spurn so much as a single word of compassion; the Buddhist under the burning sun has hung without one exclamation, without one appeal for help from his dreadful suffering; between him and the Lamb of God there is all the difference between free self-sacrifice and crazy suicide.

Archbishop Alexander.

Illustration

‘A great German Protestant writer, in speaking of this fifth word of our Lord, has likened Him to some hero who feels no exhaustion during the excitement of the battle, until the smoke begins to drift away from the lines, and the roll of cannon-shot is exchanged for a straggling fire—then, and not till then, he thinks of his bodily needs, he goes into his tent and calls for drink.’

(FOURTH OUTLINE)

THE APPEAL FROM THE CROSS

I. There are many roads to Christ on His Cross, and some of us will come by one road, and some by another.

(a) Somemany nowadays, perhaps mostare repelled by the mystery of that dark wrath, by the tremendous issues which weave themselves round and about the Sacrifice. They recoil from the theology which strains to unravel something of the secret. They fear to ask what is there, what is this hidden struggle. Why evil? why hell? Why did not God sweep it away with one stroke of His hand? So it staggers and bewilders, and to many that road is shut off.

(b) Will they come near by the other road? Will they come near to Christ through the strange sympathetic thrill of human brotherhood? In tender confidential trust, through the pathos of the weakness, and the trouble, and the pain—will that draw them? will that help them to come closer? Jesus says to them still, ‘I thirst. I am human, I am your brother, I am as you are; I feel, I suffer, I am very weary and heavy laden, and I cannot hide it. I open my heart to you, and I am wounded by your neglect; I am unhappy, I thirst.’

II. Jesus is not ashamed to show Himself on this weak human side.—Run up to Him and recognise Him, and clasp Him. Let Him make His entry into your heart. Only remember, though you were sensitive to His humanising touch, yet there are other sides true as this, hidden now to you. This same Jesus, Whom you love for saying so simply ‘I thirst,’ is He Who speaks also in the high language, when He tells you, ‘I and My Father are one,’ ‘Father, glorify Thy Son with the glory that I had with Thee before the world was.’ The two are intertwined. The Gospel of John is the Gospel of the highest, but the Gospel also of the lowest, the Gospel of a high union between the Son and the Father, the Gospel which tells you of the heavenliest, sweetest, gentlest, humblest beauties of the Lord’s human nature, the Gospel which tells you how He said, ‘I thirst.’ And do not, therefore, because you can only see one side of the Lord, deny the other, or think you see all because you feel the tender drawing of His word, ‘I thirst.’

III. And those who are drawn towards the high theological dogmatic vision of God Incarnate, of the atonement of blood, of Him Who enters in within the holy place carrying that with Him—do not, because of that, be afraid to recognise Him Whom you rightly adore in this poor Sufferer Who so humbly appeals to your help and pity by His plaintive ‘I thirst.’

Rev. Canon H. Scott Holland.

Illustration

‘The expression “I thirst” was chiefly used in order to afford a public testimony of the reality and intensity of His bodily sufferings, and to prevent any one supposing, because of His marvellous calmness and patience, that He was miraculously free from suffering. On the contrary, He would have all around Him know that He felt what all severely wounded persons, and especially all crucified persons felt—a burning and consuming thirst. So that when we read that “He suffered for sins,” we are to understand that He really and truly suffered. Henry observes, “The torments of hell are represented by a violent thirst, in the complaint of the rich man who begged for a drop of water to cool his tongue. To that everlasting thirst we had all been condemned, if Christ had not suffered on the Cross, and said, ‘I thirst.’”’

(FIFTH OUTLINE)

THE THIRST FOR FELLOWSHIP

1. Those who have experienced bodily thirst tell us how terrible is the experience.—We probably have never really known it; but travellers in the desert, those on battlefields, shipwrecked sailors, and many others have left for us on record their frightful experiences. Nothing, they tell us, can be quite so bad.

II. It was this He chose to suffer for our sakes.

III. The words mean something more.—It is the thirst of the spirit which is surely spoken of also. Though betrayed, denied, refused, buffeted, alone, He condescends still to desire the salvation of the poor blind race whom He had come to aid. ‘I thirst.’ Each time we in our dull apathy or careless wantonness fall into sin, whether of commission or omission, we wound and crucify Him afresh. He has come to light a fire, and our lifeless hearts fail to respond to the glow. ‘I thirst.’ Yes, He, the Holy One, the Blessed Sufferer, actually stoops to desire our love and loyalty; He thirsts for the fellowship of His own.

—Rev. A. Osborne Jay.

Illustration

‘These words—“I thirst”—appear immediately to have produced some effect. John’s account would seem to show us that more than one took part in this act of mercy to the Lord. “They filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to His mouth.” May we not well suppose that these soldiers were the first-fruits of that appeal? Its result was the finer feeling, the readier sympathy, the instinctive tenderness. Some Chinese women said to the wife of a missionary who worked amongst them, and brought them to a knowledge of Christ, “We first knew that we were women when we first knew Christ.” And so manhood first knew what was best in manhood when it knew Christ. Here was the pledge of the beginning—first sweet music from the lips of Christ, the first tiny ripple of that great tide of helpfulness, of Christian sympathy, which is now coming in full and big upon the shores of every land in Christendom.’

(SIXTH OUTLINE)

DIVINE THIRST

Two words—‘I thirst’—but how full of meaning! They came from One Who had cried out in the streets of Jerusalem—‘If any man thirst, let him come to Me and drink.’ It was the same Jesus Who a little time before sat with that woman in Samaria by the well and told her that the water would only quench her natural thirst for a while, but He would give her water which, if she drank, would not only quench for ever that thirst, but would enable her to go out and quench the thirst of others. And yet He said, ‘I thirst.’

I. Bodily thirst.—After the agonies of the Garden, after the mockery of the Jews and the Roman soldiers, after those three long dark hours, after all that He had endured, He felt a bodily need—‘I thirst.’ If we could only think of all it means for you and me—‘I thirst.’ That awful agony was borne for you and for me.

II. Soul thirst.—‘He thirsted,’ says a modern writer, ‘to be thirsted after. He thirsted long for the souls of men and women. He came down from heaven to draw all the world to Himself.’ Read once again the story of His Passion, the story of the Cross, the story of His death, and you will understand if you read aright something of the awful soul-thirst through which Christ passed. Christ thirsted for human souls; He thirsted for yours and mine. He thirsts. Is not that pathetic? Still He thirsts, thirsts for the souls of men and women all over the globe. Whenever a man or woman is brought to Him, whenever a man or woman comes to Him, it is as though some one had taken a drop of water and touched the dry lips.

III. Fellowship with His suffering.—‘I thirst.’ If you and I had been on Calvary we should have loved to do something to minister to the wants of our Saviour. And when little souls cry on beds of sickness, when a man finds the struggle for daily existence more than he can stand, Christ through them is crying ‘I thirst’ to you and me, and their thirsty souls can be satisfied and Christ will be satisfied through you. Christ believes in man. Christ on the Cross might have been silent, but He chose to speak—‘I thirst,’ and He showed the world what His sufferings were. He says again, speaking through suffering humanity, ‘I thirst,’ and He asks you to do something to quench that thirst, because He knows that deep down in the bottom of the heart there is some hope after all for the very worst man. The way of the world is to make the worst of everybody, to paint every one as black as possible. But Christ believed in man. He thought there was some good even in the heart of a Roman soldier, and He was not disappointed. Show your love for Christ by thirsting for souls that He came to save. Any good that we can do, let us do it now. Do not let us neglect it, for we shall never pass through this world again.

—Rev. F. W. Metcalfe.

Illustration

‘The Church’s Master believed in the recovery of man, and therefore He believed in something recoverable in man, when it was influenced by His Spirit. He passed from heaven to earth, He wore the shape of a man, He became like us—like us in form, like us in feature, like us in language, like us in His affections, with their beautiful strength and their still more beautiful weakness, like us in the heart that throbbed, like us in the blood that was shed. He came to make men more human, He came to give them a higher humanity. He seems to say in our text, “I cannot use these hands of Mine, they are pierced and fastened to the tree; if you were to offer Me a cup even now I could not lift it to these suffering lips; I know there is humanity among you—I thirst.”’


Verse 30

THE FINISHED WORK

‘When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, He said, It is finished.’

John 19:30

‘It is finished!’ What was finished here? It is the pent-up agony of centuries breaking into relief at that sighing word. Finished!

I. Finished all that the Father and the Son had worked for since man fell.—So far back—we are told it by John—so far back as the first deplorable hour when the child of His love fell away, the hope of this redemption had begun to fill God’s heart, and the will of God had bent itself to this new task that we had set Him. And on and on the long years have dragged, working out their wicked will, and sin had grown, and the trouble had deepened, and the sorrows had multiplied, and the disease had spread, and the warfare had sharpened, and death darkened, and still the Father strove with plan to follow and pursue and implore, and invoked, and chastened, and smote, and punished, and fought, if by any means He yet might win and gain the sheep that He had lost. Still all was in vain—in vain until He gathered everything into one final and supreme effort, when He Who ‘so loved the world’ sent ‘His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ For this final deed He had chosen a people stubborn and stiff-necked, who yet, if they once laid hold of the truth, would by their very stubbornness never let it go. For this He carried them in the wilderness, like an eagle carries her young. For this He had fed them, and nourished them, and planted them, and brought them by ways they knew not; for this He had raised up prophet and priest and king. And the image of a Redeemer had grown clearer before His eyes; through persecution and suffering of these men the need of that tremendous task had marked out its outlines. So through the pressure of this thousandfold experience, under the tumult of disaster and incessant defeat, under the iron heel of the Captivity, the deed that had to be done grew and assumed more and more definite proportions in its terrors and its glories.

II. And at last the day had come.—The awful venture was made. God’s last stake—there was no more that could be done when once He had said of these evil husbandmen, ‘They will reverence My Son.’ He had come. The dream of all these centuries had been fulfilled as it were in a moment, and the work of the entire story of man’s fall and his rescue had been up-gathered and concentrated into this single act. And down the storm had broken. And when it came, who could have guessed it would have been so fierce? The rush, strength, and rage of the whole thing—who could have measured its horror? Down it had poured upon Him, the flooded hate of the whole world’s sin, turned by the course of one wicked will down on the patient Martyr of God, merciless, savage, horrible, as He hung there on the bloody tree. What sorrow could ever have been like His sorrow? How long is it to last? Will it ever end? Will He bear it much longer?

III. And then, just at the worst and blackest moment of all, there is a sudden turn, a flasha door opened.—‘It is finished!’ He is through! Round and about Him indeed the scene is but little changed. The storm roars and blusters, but deep within it is felt, it is known, the signal is given from God and recognised. The corner has been turned, the battle has been won. He shall not die, but live. It is secured and done for ever. No fear now; He is through, He is out on the other side. ‘It is finished! It is finished!’

—Rev. Canon H. Scott Holland.

Illustration

‘“It is finished”—nearly done and over. We come to the peace, the incomparable peace of relief—the relief of the sailor on the groaning, labouring ship, as his quick eyes detect that the fury of the storm is spent, that the gusts that still shake his vessel begin to betray their exhaustion, and have not their old terrible intensity. The worst is past. “It is finished.” He will ride it out, thank God! It is the whisper of hope to those who are beset in some desperate garrison, like that of Lucknow. After all the sickening delay, after all the hopeless disappointment, as day after day they had looked from the shaking, crumbling ramparts, it seemed as if they would hardly last another hour. They looked out over the plain every morning to see if they could just see the glitter of an English bayonet, just listen to the sound of an English gun. Would they never come? Would they ever hold out all those long eighty days? Who would believe it? And at last, as they look one day, they see a movement, a stir somewhere. Hark! There is the far sound of a Highland pibroch! “Look, we are saved!” The peril is past, tears start, tears of a joy that cannot be believed. “We are saved! It is finished! Thank God! Thank God!”’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE VICTORY OF THE PASSION

I. It were a poor view of the Redeemer’s Passion to take were we to dwell in any way exclusively upon its physical side of bitter suffering.—This part was great; but added to it, and going with it, was, and always shall be, the note of eternal victory. ‘It is finished,’ the work is done, the labour accomplished, the effort carried through. ‘In the volume of the book it is written of Me, I come to do Thy will, O God.’

II. Now that blessed will is altogether consummated.—He had come down a little babe to Bethlehem; He had left the courts of heaven and the worship of the young-eyed cherubim, and had taken on Him, for our sakes, the form of human weakness and subjection. And for this they had hung Him, as if He were a malefactor, on the Cross of shame. ‘We will not have this Man to reign over us.’

III. But there is one thing that man cannot spoil: it is the victory of the Passion.—‘It is finished.’ The Victor, alone and unaided, has trodden the winepress. ‘He suffered, and was buried,’ says the Creed. It is the most glorious of epitaphs: ‘It is finished.’

—Rev. A. Osborne Jay.

Illustration

‘There, in the studio of Michael Angelo, one sees on the canvas the inception of a splendid painting; but little more than the outline exists. Beside the easel lie oils and brushes as the artist left them, but the fingers of the renowned genius are cold and stiff in death. The skilful chisel of Thorswalden is never to give the finishing touch to the fine group in marble, which, at a glance, betrays the Danish sculptor’s marvellous power. On his study table at Gad’s Hill lies the unfinished MS. of the last novel which Charles Dickens began. The grandest engineering achievement of our time is inaugurated by royalty amid flying banners and universal congratulations; but the architect of the gigantic bridge that spans the Forth never saw its completion. It was only Christ Who could say, ‘It is finished.’ And His finished work is our only hope.’

(THIRD OUTLINE)

‘’TIS FINISHED, ALL IS FINISHED’

‘Finished!’ What a cry of relief from the long strain which had been upon Him! And what may we say the words specially refer to?

I. Finished sufferings.—I think, first of all, to His own sufferings. Christ must suffer. That was, if we may say it reverently, a foregone conclusion. Think of all the world, with all its accumulated wickedness and sin. Think of the sin in our own hearts, the sin in our own parish, the sin of London, the sin of every great city accumulated, if our imagination is sufficiently vivid and acute. It is not different now, is it? The world is just the same to-day. It is more polished, perhaps; it calls sin, in its multiplicity of forms, by different names. But is not the heart of the world exactly the same to-day as it was then, the world as you know it, as you see it represented in those friends of yours who do not love Christ? The sin which animates their hostility to Christ, do you not think that that sin would put Christ to death again if He came to the world? Do you not think that if Jesus came to the world to-day He would not be wanted? Would He be wanted in our homes, our social life? If He came to our churches would He be wanted there? He must suffer in order to enter into His glory. How is it with us? Need we wonder if when we try to do right we must also suffer? It has been so from the very beginning, but because Christ has said in His moment of apparent defeat, when the world thought that they had done with Him, ‘It is accomplished,’ therefore you and I may be assured that we shall have victory. The glory will be ours through suffering.

II. Finished temptations.—Not only were His sufferings accomplished, but also His temptations. He had wrestled with the tempter and had overcome. All His life He had temptations to overcome. There is a note of quiet rest struck in these words, just as much as there is a note of triumph. Doubtless you have your temptations, something which you know, if you let it get the upper hand, will cripple your life, sap your spiritual energy, and you determine that you will set all your spiritual forces upon it that you may overcome it. And then you overcome it, and it becomes a thing dead. Weeks may pass away, and you may not have felt it; it has not touched your life, and you are rejoicing; and just in the moment of your rejoicing it comes again with all its old force and power, and you almost feel inclined not to wrestle with it any more, but to let it have its way because you cannot say, ‘It is accomplished; it is finished.’ Do not let us give way—let us realise that it will be overcome some time. And the same way with our sin, and griefs, and pains. Do not let us despair because they take so much overcoming, because we have always to fight and wrestle with them, and there seems no finality with them. Jesus has said: ‘It is accomplished. Thy temptation is at an end. It is finished.’ The most powerful thing in the world, Christ has vanquished it, and if you will but go on fighting in His strength, the time will come when you will be able to say, ‘It is finished.’

III. Finished work.—And then something else, too, Jesus accomplished—His triumphant work. The battle of His corporeal life was over, but not before redemption, full and free, had been secured. What does it all mean? You and I have sinned, there is no doubt about that; we have all sinned consciously, every one of us, I doubt not—if not consciously, unconsciously. We have therefore broken God’s law, risen against Him, rebelled, and by our very sin we are afar off from God. How are you and I to get near, for God’s Law saith, ‘The soul that sinneth it shall die’? There is only one way. We have it put into words by St. Paul: ‘If One died for all, then were all dead.’ There was the need, the need of one perfect One to come and die for us and take our place. And you and I are now to believe it. ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.’ That is the first step, I say, in our spiritual life. In our Communion Service we say that Jesus made upon the Cross ‘a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world’; but that sacrifice is of no effect if we do not believe it and accept it as God’s way of salvation. Let us look at the Cross now, and pray that God will give us the faith we need, that we may see in Jesus our Saviour and our Redeemer, our Prophet, our Priest, and our King, One Who ever liveth to make intercession for us.

—Rev. T. J. Longley.

Illustration

‘This remarkable expression, in the Greek, is one single word in a perfect tense, “It has been completed.” It stands here in majestic simplicity, without note or comment from John, and we are left entirely to conjecture what the full meaning of it is. For eighteen hundred years Christians have explained it as they best can, and some portion of its meaning in all likelihood has been discovered. Yet it is far from unlikely that such a word, spoken on such an occasion, by such a Person, at such a moment, just before death, contains depths which no one has ever completely fathomed. No one single meaning, we may be sure, exhausts the whole phrase. It is rich, full, and replete with deep truths.’


Verse 38-39

FROM COWARDICE TO CONFESSION1

‘And after this Joseph of Arimathæa, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that be might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night.’

John 19:38-39

What a wonderful incident! Joseph of Arimathæa and Nicomedus—they both desire to bury the Crucified after His death; what a strange meeting it must have been when they met at the foot of the Cross! They belonged to the same class, members of the Sanhedrim. But neither had ever told the other about the influence which Jesus had over him. While Nicodemus had gone by night and talked with Jesus, he had never told Joseph; and although Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, he had kept it secret. Then there came that strange meeting; each was conscious of an attraction, each was drawn to Calvary; and these old friends, who had never known what was going on in their hearts, met at the foot of the Cross. ‘I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me.’ It was a very bold act of these men. Both belonged to the rich and cultured section of Jewish society, while Jesus of Nazareth was only a poor carpenter, and His followers nothing better than fishermen, mostly from despised Galilee. To stand out on the Christ side was to give a slap in the face to that exclusive section to which they belonged; moreover, the decree had gone forth that if anybody acknowledged the claims of Jesus as the Christ he should be cast out of the synagogue. Thus it meant both social and ecclesiastical excommunication, and also the forfeiting of all prospect of ambition. Yet up to the time that Christ died they had not true men’s pluck, they were poor, miserable, pitiable people after all. Ah! but they cannot go on in this way. After all, there was a great deal that was noble about them. They had been brought to conviction; and the one who came to Him by night will have to come to Him by day, and the secret disciple must be an open disciple; because there is a great good God watching over them both, Who means to perfect the work that He has begun. Only, you know, it never gets easier to confess the Christ as you put it off, but it always gets harder. In this case, Joseph and Nicodemus came to confess the Christ just at the very time when He was despised and rejected of men; when to confess Him involved the greatest risk; they had to confess the Christ upon the Cross. The splendour of that courageous act takes away all power of our condemning their previous cowardice. And we can surely sympathise with them in their cowardice; neither you nor I can take a stone and fling at either Joseph or Nicodemus. For we ourselves have been great moral cowards. Yet the position of a man who has religion enough to feel that he ought to be a Christian, but not enough pluck to be one, is most desperate. These men found it so. They felt that life is not worth having, except under the conditions of self-respect—for it is a lie. They came face to face with that magnificent vision of obedience unto death, even the death of the Cross. From this position of compromising knowledge they had been wrought into the boldness of a magnificent confession.

I. Here is our lesson to-day.—Make a distinct and definite act of confession of the Christ. How? Make your Easter communion—the Sacrament. The sacramentum was the oath the Roman soldier took to Cæsar—to the King. Stand out, and take the oath of loyalty this coming Easter Day in sincerity. Do not take it, I implore you, in insincerity, do not make your Easter Communion if you do not mean it, or if you are merely constrained by external influence; for the love of God, do not communicate unless you mean it. Yes, but then you would not be here week by week, would you, if you meant to be like that? If you do not mean to be Christ’s, do not insult Him by taking His Sacrament, but if you do—never mind how weak you are, come and breathe out the love in your Easter Communion; confess Christ.

II. Ah, but there are difficulties you have to get over, you say:—

(1) The first difficulty is this, ‘I dare not.’ Why? ‘Because I am not going to insult the Christ; I am not going to make my Communion on Easter Day and then go back and live according to the world, the flesh, and the devil. I won’t do that.’ Well, but which master are you to serve? ‘Oh, I should like to be Christ’s, of course. I know that my life here would be happier, and that I should be saved from all kinds of perils, and that I should go on my way with a happier conscience, and when I came to die I should find Him with me.’ Then you are going to stand out for Christ? ‘No.’ Why, why? ‘Oh, I should be laughed at.’ Of course you will. You do not think you can serve Christ and not suffer for it? ‘If any Man will be My disciple, let him take up his cross and follow Me.’ I do not want to cheat you; the Cross always involves a certain amount of shame. But do you mean to say that you are going to live a moral coward? Because that is what it comes to—‘I would be a Christian, if I dared.’ A coward cannot be a Christian; you can only be a Christian, you can only be righteous, by being brave. Have then the courage to follow Joseph and Nicodemus, have the courage to come out straight for the Christ, and take Him as your King.

(2) But you say there is another difficulty. It is not that ‘I dare not,’ but ‘I cannot—I lack hope. I have known the most awful longings to be set free from sin, to follow after righteousness. I have resolved, and tried again and again and again, but the same result, and I have lost hope. Can you help me?’ Yes, I can. There is a living Christ with a Hand outstretched to help. Though, like Peter, thou art sinking in the waters of temptation, clutch that Hand, and He will hold thee up. He will safely lead thee through the battle. Thou mayest be wounded, but defeated—never! No one is finally defeated who has grasped the Hand of Christ. Though he fall he shall not be cast away, for the Lord upholdeth with His Hand. For every struggling sinner there is a message of hope; He will enable you to live a fighting life.

Remember, we have nothing to do with the victory. That is in His Hand. What we have to do is the fighting, and to die fighting is to die saved. We cannot command victory, but we can, God helping us, fight, fight to the end. Fight with our lower nature, with this evil world, against the forces of evil, under the blood-red banner of the Cross. Victory will come when and where He will. May God grant that we go each on his way open disciples of the Lord Jesus, fighting bravely without and within the battle of righteousness! If it be so, we shall know a gladsome meeting some day—‘when the hurly-burly’s done, when the battle’s fought and won’—in that fair land where the victors meet for ever, and keep an eternal victors’ peace, and sing the victors’ song in the eternal Easter of the Resurrection Church.

Rev. Canon Body.

Illustration

‘That dread thing, the grave, is itself transfigured. Not only will it be grand, one wonderful day, to have done with it for ever, and to inhabit that great city which needs no cemetery, the heavenly Jerusalem; but even now, while the grave lasts, it is altered, it is transfigured, because in it the silent Lord, in the reality of His human death, lay down before us. I love to think of every Christian churchyard, every Christian grave, as linked spiritually to Joseph’s garden; a sort of extension of it, so that as it were the Lord’s sepulchre—now open to the eternal day—is always one among the sepulchres of His people.’

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on John 19:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/john-19.html. 1876.

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